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West Vancouver's Beach House: Tracing the building’s storied past back to 1913

The North Shore was once home to grand old architectural dames, but many of those stately homes were torn down to make room for more contemporary mansions.

The North Shore was once home to grand old architectural dames, but many of those stately homes were torn down to make room for more contemporary mansions.

One building that avoided demolition is the former Clachan, built in 1912 for Scottish immigrants Jessie and Helen Stevenson. Until their deaths in the 1940s, the sisters ran the Edwardian-era style residence as a tea room, which soon became the epicentre for social gatherings and soirees for West Vancouver’s elite. Then, in 1944, the District of West Vancouver purchased the wood-framed, one-storey residence.

Nestled in Dundarave Park, the iconic landmark was reinvented as The Breakers, and the St. Mawes hotel, before becoming Peppi’s By-The-Sea in 1964.

In 2010, Earls Restaurants assumed the lease of the storied building and last year, the company set out to restore it to its former glory. Embarking upon a total renovation took longer and cost more than anticipated. However, the finale is classically timeless, paying homage to its location and significant heritage.

Today, the Beach House is at once elegant yet unpretentious, a neighbourhood destination that celebrates good food and offers cozy atmosphere and great conversation.

Earl’s Elly Chronakis, creative director of design, along with senior interior designer Kimberley Hume, were tasked with honouring the integrity of the building while giving it a more open, airy West Coast feel.

“We wanted to stay true to its Edwardian architecture, while taking inspiration from the colours and textures of the coastline, including the driftwood, rocks, shells and shades of the sand,” says Chronakis, adding they chose tiles for the floors, to give it a more durable yet warm beach look.

“We design a lot of custom furniture pieces in-house, and used natural fabrics, such as leather for the seating and dark-stained white oak for the furniture and wood beams,” said Hume.

The design features a mix of new and old accents, like locally sourced antiques and a contemporary collection by local BC artists. Some of the featured artists include West Vancouver's Gordon Smith, Musqueam Coast Salish artist Susan Point, who was commissioned to create Spindle World, the carved circular wood piece at the reception, as well as works in collaboration with the West Vancouver Art Museum, North Van Arts, and the Silk Purse Arts Centre.

Throughout the main dining room, or almost any other part of the former tea house, charcoal-hued walls are adorned with vintage black and white photographs harkening to days gone by.

The rooms have an inviting, understated atmosphere with an air of comfortable elegance. Some restoration was required, like the back bar of the former restaurant, which was removed and replaced by an island bar with seating. The upper level was extended to offer an event space aptly dubbed The Landing, with French doors leading to a deck featuring sweeping mountain, ocean and cityscape views.

The nearly six-month hiatus gave executive chef David Wong and his culinary team ample time to brainstorm and create an entirely new seafood-centric menu with a strong focus on fresh, seasonal and local ingredients.

“I saw the initial renderings of the sophisticated-yet-casual new look, and it opened up so many layers of inspiration to design the new menus,” notes the former executive chef of the Fairmont Hotel chain, where in 2010 he crafted the food program for the new Fairmont Pacific Rim. “At the Beach House, we are serious about our food, but casual in our approach. We want our guests to experience a variety of flavours and bold dishes, in an approachable way.”

Wong’s philosophy is to “emphasize simplicity in the execution of the dishes – creating fare that is contemporary and well-executed.”

The dishes showcase that bright creativity that is so appealing. Some standouts are its signature seafood tower, prawn and scallop spaghettini, or the grilled octopus with chorizo, basil, rustic croutons, and charred tomato fondue.

Their carte du jour is complemented by a wine program boasting new and old-world, along with a host of meticulously designed martinis fronted by Earl’s beverage director, sommelier Cam Bogue.

From the renewal of the exterior facade to the reimagined bright and airy interiors, the Beach House is an inspiring design and epicure update for our cosmopolitan city. 

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